Education About Asia: Online Archives

EAA Interview with John Williams, Director of Japanese Films

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John Williams grew up in Wales and studied Languages at Cambridge University. After moving to Japan in 1988, he made a series of short films before attempting the full-length movie Firefly Dreams (Ichiban Utsukushii Natsu) in 2001. Filmed in Aichi prefecture in central Japan, the film was named Best Feature Film at the Hawai`i International Film Festival, and won awards at five other international film festivals. Williams is also Associate Professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, where he teaches courses in film production, film history, and screenwriting.

Tanner and Mason: Were you surprised by the critical success of Firefly Dreams?

John Williams: Yes, very surprised. The film was made on a very modest budget with a largely non-professional cast, so the fact that it was well received and released in other countries was great for everyone involved.

Tanner and Mason: By the way, the Japanese title translates as “The most beautiful summer.” Why is the title so different between languages?

John Williams: I wanted to use the word hotaru in the Japanese title, but there were two other “firefly” films that year, so the distributor asked us for another title. The Japanese title is ironic, since the central character’s summer is far from happy in many ways, but it is a defining summer in her life, and for that reason the most beautiful one.

Tanner and Mason: I’ve spoken to many Japanese people who were surprised or disbelieving that a foreign director could express a Japanese “feeling” or “spirit” so well. What do you think about this sentiment?

John Williams: I personally don’t believe in anything like a Japanese “feeling” or “spirit.” I know there may be some kind of general aesthetic sensibility here, which is different from that of other countries, but on the other hand, there have been many different kinds of Japanese cinema, literature, and art. Is Ozu more Japanese than Naruse Mikio? Is Kurosawa more Japanese than Kitano Takeshi? I get into a lot of fights with people about this point of view—many people dislike the idea that Japan is not “other” in some way. I would be more frightened if it were.